The music press wasn’t particularly enamored of Queen’s #1 single “Bohemian Rhapsody” when it debuted in 1975. TIME damned it with faint praise, calling it “a six-minute cut that mingles introspection with Gilbert and Sullivan operatics…” New Musical Express referred to it as both “ludicrous” and “self-important” and Rolling Stone eventually settled on a “brazen hodgepodge” after ignoring it completely in its review of the album A Night at the Opera. Similarly, Melody Maker described “Bohemian Rhapsody” as “a superficially impressive pastiche of incongruous musical styles”—Mamma Mia! And while I myself can admit to owning only two Queen LPs back in the day—Greatest Hits and their soundtrack to Flash Gordon—I did once whistle along to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in a high school talent show.
The song has, of course, gone on to become a rock classic, unquestionably the most beloved number in Queen’s extensive catalog and the UK’s third best-selling single of all time.
The Hollywood press hasn’t been exactly gushing about Bohemian Rhapsody—the new docudrama starring Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek as the late Freddie Mercury—either. Who knows: maybe the film will also stand the test of time and be hailed as an overlooked gem some 45 years hence—it’s received five Oscar nominations, after all, including Best Picture.
Nah. Probably not.
“Bo Rap The Movie” is Biopic Lite, generally entertaining but considerably and unapologetically denuded of depth. Its focus is clearly on the music, not what made the actual, fascinating Mercury tick. As written, the film is afraid to portray him as anything more than an awkward gay stereotype despite Malek’s superhuman efforts to make Mercury real and alive. The most invigorating parts of the film are when Malek is strutting his lip-synched stuff on stage (which he does, often), with Mercury’s crazy-unique vocals powering the soundtrack. His band members look the part, but their singularly bland adoration of their frontman is, frankly, creepy and one dimensional.
Feel free to blame the film’s basic superficiality on that other lead Singer, director Brian, who was fired from the project at the 11th hour for “unexpected unavailability.” He still gets a directing credit mind.
Still, as a “best of” package of compositions by Mercury, May, Taylor, and Deacon, Bohemian Rhapsody is mostly complete, and you can’t knock Malek, who throws his heart, soul, and prosthetic teeth into a performance that’s likely to secure him the Best Actor Academy Award come February 24th at 8pm (Eastern).
His is a fab fine Freddie and a win will be his crowning glory, richly and royally deserved.
(c) 2019 David N. Butterworth